“We’re here at the Munn campaign’s election night conference and the excitement is palatable as the results are coming in. You can see this crowd behind me—the enthusiasm for Ander Munn never slowed down, and he remains the expected favorite to win this election, which would make him the first floggle president of Lanc’teal.”
The reporter, Edna, smoothed her fur coat. It was actually natural hair, but few saw past the classic dimorphism that male shiffles had hair and females were bald. The least painful option had been to style it to pass as clothing.
Behind her cheered a crowd big enough to fill the country’s largest stadium, though the stage was empty. Edna’s cream skin shined in the lights as the camera zoomed into her bulbous head.
“Yes, in an election marred by the usual claims of corruption and lies, Munn’s proponents have said he stood out as being the most honest politician, earning him the nickname ‘Honest Ander’.” She shimmied to the camera’s other side so the stage would be in the shot.
“Candidate Munn has declared support for strengthening and expanding the recent economic and health care bills and a desire to expand science and technology. Still, he has not been shy about expressing his religious beliefs, and it’s this mix that has given him his reputation for honesty and speaking his beliefs instead of trying to play a crowd.
“Detractors have said he’s contradictory, closed, and without specifics, but most proponents for him have fired back, saying they just don’t like how Munn acts. Many agree he is eccentric, but this has endeared him all the more to many supporters.”
She turned as the crowd cheer surged for a lanky figure on the stage. “Speaking of which, here he is now.”
“Not again,” shouted the scaly pink verk’lon behind the video camera. He shook the camera and peered over it with his conical eyes.
“Camera acting up again, Hady’no?” Edna asked.
“Yeah,” the verk’lon snarled. “Don’t worry, I think I got it.” He smacked the camera with his stiff, curled tail.
“Be careful, it’s expensive.”
“Think I don’t know that? I know what I’m doing.” Hady’no removed his hat and scratched his crested head with a tri-fingered hand. “How many times has this been now?”
“We’d better get a new camera when this election’s over,” Edna said. It had been happening a lot since they’d started covering the election. Warped video, distorted sound—sometimes it cut to static, while other times it was nothing more than slight artifacts or a fuzzy edge. Then Edna thought she saw something in the distorted video, sinister images flashing and moving. She heard things she knew she never said—never would say. It chilled her despite the tropical climate.
She turned to the stage. If only some of that science funding Candidate Munn promised could go to solving their camera issues.
On the stage Ander waved to the cheering crowd with gangly arms as long as his legs. He stood taller than most floggles, even taller than most verk’lons. His legs made up over half his height, lifting a merged head and torso hidden under a low stovepipe top hat. His vest and night-black coat and pants (no doubt custom-made for his tall frame) gave him a thin, stark look, as did his white gloves and black shoes. Most floggles had green skin, but Ander’s was rarely visible.
Munn never spoke, but as people shouted to him he nodded or gave an affirmative hand gesture.
“Got it!” Hady’no said. “Camera’s back in business.”
Edna turned back. “Sorry for the interruption; as you can see, Candidate Munn is now on the stage greeting his fans and we’re expecting more election results at any time, so stay tuned.”
An hour later, Edna received a report through an earpiece. Further election results were in and it was official. “Candidate Ander Munn has just been declared the winner of the presidential election; I repeat, Lanc’teal is about to have its first floggle president.” She spoke congratulations for the president-to-be but was drowned out as the crowd cheered roaring applause. Ander raised his hands in victory to the height of a healthy tree, though not the width of such.
Over the crowd Edna said, “I’m sure you can hear the ecstatic cheers of this crowd behind me, and I imagine the next couple months will be full of excitement as President-Elect Munn solidifies his plans before the inauguration. We’ll be speaking with some of Munn’s biggest supporters in a–”
“Sorry!” Hady’no shook the camera. “Started zooming into Munn and the camera messed up again.”
Edna sighed. “Figures. At least it didn’t happen right when we received the news.”
* * *
Were this a movie, the distorted camera would show the scene warping until it transformed into a new one, slightly buzzing, a few blips, and now inauguration day.
* * *
“This may just be the biggest crowd for inauguration day we’ve ever seen,” Edna said. Behind her stood a crowd of thousands, most a rainbow of verk’lons among a few other species. “President Munn has gone quiet the past few weeks, but most reports say he has been hard at work preparing for his term in office.”
The crowd spoke nary a whisper as the verk’lon judge on the stage swore Ander Munn in. In a few moments the country would have its first floggle president. The square buzzed with energy in preparation for President Munn’s inauguration speech.
“Fig!” Hady’no smacked the camera. “Just got a notice, all the cameras are freaking out. It’s even worse than usual.”
“Wonderful,” Edna said with a shake of her head. “And right at the end of the swearing in–” She whipped her head back at a scream from the stage. Her mouth dropped. Tentacles emerged from Munn’s sleeves, undulating like the signal of a heartbeat. The floggle smacked everyone off the stage.
“This is bad,” Hady’no said. “Every camera is twisted and warped, and the audio sounds practically mangled.”
Edna glared at him. “There’s something a little more–”
An endless screech echoed in her head like teeth scraping a chalkboard amplified through a scratchy old sound system cranked to the max. The crowd screamed. Many fell over. Edna thought she would have too if she stood on legs like other species instead of a flat bottom. She leaned on a wall as the screeching formed wails, static, words demanding—she couldn’t tell what, only that they were demanding. She covered her inner ears but still heard the screeching. It formed flashing images, tall figures with tentacles operating bodies not theirs, leading people, controlling people.
Silence snapped back. Edna gasped with the crowd as if they’d been drowning.
The screeching resumed but focused, creating words. President Munn held the podium on the stage, raising his tentacles as if he spoke the screeching.
THE CHILDREN . . .
ALL FAMILIES . . . THOSE WHO CROSS THE BORDER ILLEGALLY . . . THEIR CHILDREN SHALL BE SEPARATED . . . THEY SHALL BE BROUGHT TO THE PRESIDENT’S MANSION.
ALL WHO REFUSE . . . PLACED ON HOUSE ARREST AND CHILDREN TAKEN.
Edna shook her head to jostle the screeching out. Was this President Munn’s inauguration address? Were they hearing his plans as president? How could this be their new president? How could Honest Ander be the biggest liar, and, apparently otherworldly? Was she dreaming? That screeching was loud enough to wake anyone, even if only in a dream.
POLITICAL OPPONENTS, HOUSE ARREST. CONSTANT SURVEILLANCE WILL BE ENACTED. A CAMERA MUST BE ON EVERYONE AT ALL TIMES.
With one last screech and a flash of light as blinding as the screech was deafening President Ander Munn disappeared from the stage.
The crowd rumbled. A few screamed, but most muttered confused questions of disbelief.
“What the fig?” Edna muttered. Most politicians would keep an agenda like this secret. Why would Munn announce this to the world? Nobody would follow him—they’ll impeach him. Was he confident in the power he’d shown?
“Hey, cameras are back,” Hady’no said. “They’re working just fine now.”
“Did you not notice anything that just happened?” Edna asked.
“No, I did,” said Hady’no. “But, you know. Camera.”
“Report!” Hady’no said. “Let’s go.” He trained the camera on Edna.
“Right.” Edna adjusted her hair and cleared her throat. “Members of the viewing public, I’m not quite sure how to explain this. I’m not sure how much you saw or heard, but it seems our President Munn has just, in complete defiance of everything he ran on, declared a police state where those against him will be jailed and, furthermore, their children taken to him.”
A guffaw jolted Edna to look behind her. A shiffle covered in hair swaggered before the camera.
“It’s just like a politician, innit? They promise one thing but once they’re elected they turn around on all of it.”
Edna stared at him. “Would you get out of here?” she shouted.
* * *
“We are now into the first week of President Ander Munn’s term,” Edna said. She sat behind a desk before the camera. “What many initially thought a joke has turned all too frighteningly real as President Munn’s demands that children be rounded up and sent to his home have started, many immigration officers all too eager to comply, some even taking children who have lived in the country for years.
“We were to be joined by Representative Teal’cno Lonk’din this evening, but he cancelled lately, citing reasons many others in the government have echoed that President Munn is stalking them, appearing out their window or in the distance, doing nothing but watching, staring at them. One of our reporters caught up with Representative Chemmy Worcest earlier today to ask them about it, resulting in what appeared to be an instance of stalking.”
Edna watched the footage of a reporter walking with a hairless shiffle in a suit. The dim light suggested dusk.
“Many people have railed against President Munn’s declarations, but positions that seem untenable have started to be taken by many in the government and even you have been wavering on issues such as the police state and gathering of children, can you explain why?”
“Y-You don’t know President Munn,” Worcest said. They twitched and stuttered, their eyes drooping more than most shiffles. “He’s, he’s a very nice person, I’m sure, b-but—” They rubbed their puckered face. “He’s persistent. That’s the best I can say. He never gives up, he keeps on you until you join his side.”
“Some have said he has been stalking them,” the reporter said.
Worcest coughed as they spoke. “I wouldn’t—I wouldn’t put it quite that far, but he—he just—very much—always—” They grabbed the reporter. “The president is mad! These ideas are insane, despotic, but he’s always there, he’s always one step ahead and another step behind and—” With a scream they stumbled back, shouting about Munn being there. The camera whipped around and showed President Munn in the distance among trees before the image distorted into static, the shouting warping into demonic screams.
Edna stared at the footage. Years ago she’d dealt with stalking. She knew how it could feel. Jeers and insults had followed her everywhere. All President Munn did was stand and stare, but the threat remained.
She turned back to the camera. “Reports say coughing fits have become common for many government workers, sometimes leaving them unable to move for several minutes at a time. Many representatives being stalked have begun to film themselves at all times, some even wearing body cameras, and while few have been willing to release this footage, those that have show mostly mundane footage with President Munn appearing sporadically in the distance, sometimes without the representative even noticing he was there.”
She’d watched the footage they were showing viewers. Seeing that striking figure watching motionless—that would freak anyone out. Seeing it repeatedly, worried when he would appear next, it was no wonder so many government officials looked ragged now. But there was one piece of terror missing.
“As the footage shows, President Munn often leaves after being noticed. Sometimes when not noticed he will approach very closely, but no violent undertones have been reported and though some representatives have cited fear of violence, so far it seems to be Munn reminding them that he’s watching. Should his massive surveillance be enacted, though, that would be the case for everyone.
“Tomorrow we will conduct an exclusive live interview with President Munn, the first such interview since his inauguration. There we will discuss these stalking reports, his goals, and just what exactly is going on.”
* * *
Edna stood in a guest room of the president’s home, a hairless shiffle applying makeup to her. Every room was dark and the staff moved about like coughing zombies. She’d never seen the building with such a creepy vibe, and every time she or Hady’no or her producer coughed she tensed up.
“I don’t mind saying I’m nervous about this,” she said.
“That’s normal, Edna,” said her verk’lon producer. “Everyone is nervous about talking to a well-known, powerful figure.”
“I mean because he’s an evil lunatic!” Edna said.
“I’ve interviewed presidents before. I haven’t interviewed stalker presidents who screech.” She slumped. “I mean, for all I can tell he might just have me imprisoned in his basement or something.”
“Look, don’t worry about a thing,” her producer said. “We’re all going to be here. Hady’no will be with you operating the camera–”
“Unfortunately,” the camera verk’lon said.
“–and the rest of us will be just outside the room.”
“Right, outside,” Edna said. “And not inside where Munn will be.”
At the appointed time Edna entered the president’s Spiral Office, named so after the spiral shape it had been constructed in. Hady’no followed, though he immediately complained of camera problems that plagued anyone filming Munn. Edna doubted even a working camera would film well in the office. The room was so dark she stumbled into a wooden chair, probably set out for her. It looked shabby enough to collapse under her and she remained standing.
With a sharp gasp Edna locked eyes—no, that wasn’t right. Edna faced President Munn, whose hat-hidden head tilted in her direction. He sat behind the president’s desk on a stool as tall as Edna, his angular legs bent upwards. The shiffle shifted her glare left and right—in the corners stood two more Munns watching her. With everything she’d seen, she wouldn’t be surprised to learn Munn could create duplicates.
Edna inhaled and removed a microphone from her hair. “Thank you for making time for this interview.” Munn nodded. “I thought we would begin with the expectations between your campaign promises and your administration’s policies. Many people have said they feel at least disappointment over what you’ve done. Do you think that’s reasonable?”
Munn gave a slight shrug of his shoulders.
“You don’t know?” Munn shook his head. “You don’t care, then.” The president nodded once. Edna assumed this would be how the entire interview would go. She supposed it was better than the screeching voice in her head again.
“About the children. What are you planning to do with the ones brought here?”
President Munn pointed to the wall where a poster declared, “ALL THE CHILDREN SHALL BE TAKEN”.
“Yes, but what will be done with them?”
Munn again pointed to the poster.
“Do you intend to reveal your plans for them at some point?”
Munn sat blankly before giving another small nod.
“Okay. Many people have suggested a lot of reasons why you’ve enacted these policies. Do you want to set the record straight on your reasons for doing what many have considered awful and horrible and, er . . .” Munn shifted in his seat, as did the Munns in the corners.
Edna was there to get answers, which she’d not yet done, and to speak truth to power, which seemed more dangerous than ever. The room darkened. These acts of Munn’s were horrible and awful—surely he knew this. But he didn’t seem to like hearing it out loud. The shadows closed in on Edna—the room felt like it was shrinking. Shrinking yet lengthening, like the door was stretching away. She looked at Hady’no and his camera—he was still there. She wasn’t gone yet. She still had an anchor to reality.
“Don’t look at the camera,” Hady’no whispered.
Edna glared at him. An annoying anchor to reality, maybe. She turned back to Munn and gasped. “Where’d he go?” Munn had disappeared from behind the table, though the two in the corner remained still.
“Fig—I mean—” Hady’no groaned. “I don’t know, I was looking at you.”
Edna shifted behind the chair. She turned and her sight was filled with a blank grassy-green face and stovepipe hat. She screamed—Munn crouched over her centimeters away. She swung her microphone. With a scratchy surge of feedback the microphone hit President Munn and he stumbled back.
“Oh, dear Gourd,” Edna said. She stared as Munn rose, arms wide like a beast closing in on her. She shivered in her hair, gripping the microphone close. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I don’t know what came over me—I didn’t mean to—” She pulled back, staring at the advancing Munn. Horrible possibilities floated through her mind that Munn would drown her, chop her up, freeze her in darkness, anything that he might have already done to all those innocent children. The dark room faded; all she could see was Munn, everything was Munn. With a great twitch she smacked the president with the microphone again. Hady’no shouted.
“You’re a vile tyrant!” said Edna. She didn’t care what happened to her—she wouldn’t let Munn get away with this. “I don’t know what I can do, but know that the good people of this country will not tolerate what you’re doing!”
Munn lunged at Edna, grabbing her microphone. Feedback screeched through the microphone as the room spun and twisted. Edna saw flashing Munns in the darkness advancing. Any moment he would wrap the cord around her neck. She yanked her microphone away. The floggle stumbled, and his hat and suit fell. Edna gaped.
This was just too much.
Munn wasn’t even a floggle.
President Munn, or whoever he was, stared at Edna. They were some sort of gremlin! A scaly gremlin in an oversized floggle-colored shirt, their goldenrod scales in flaky layers, spiky head flat and pointed. They weren’t tall—they were shorter than Edna! Their black, twitchy arms held poles ending in green gloves, and they stood on two stilts.
“What?” Edna said. “What—who—what is going on here?”
The gremlin muttered, looking around as if out of place.
The gremlin grinned. “April’s Fools!”
Edna stared. “What?”
“Parker, dankom King of the Prankers, has pranked yet again!” They shouted, “April’s Fools!” repeatedly and ran out of the room on their stilts.
“Hey!” Edna chased them to her bewildered producer and crew. “Stop that thing! That’s—That gremlin is the president, somehow!”
Everyone shouted in a tizzy—who was the president? What was the president? He transformed? Some had enough sense to chase Parker, but the gremlin skidded down the hall and smashed through a window, the parting curtains shedding light upon the dark hallway.
As Parker leapt out they shouted a long, “April’s Fools!” which devolved into a scream trailing for two stories until they smacked onto the street with a muffled thud.
Edna joined everyone in looking out the window at the twitching gremlin below. A muttering of “April’s . . . Fool’s . . .” drifted up.
I wonder what Lanc’teal’s constitution says to do when you elect someone who ran literally as a joke.